When she first perused the script for "Boxing Helena," actress Kim Basinger testified Monday, she felt it was the strangest piece she had ever read.
After all, she told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury, it was a story about a woman with no arms and no legs, a character who basically was "just a head."
"When I read the piece," Basinger said, "I just felt I had to meet the mind behind this idea."
That decision led to meetings in early 1991 with the screenwriter-director, Jennifer Lynch, daughter of "Twin Peaks" director David Lynch, that form part of an intense legal dispute raging in Department 34 of the county courthouse.
Main Line Pictures, the company that made "Boxing Helena," contends that Basinger verbally agreed to star in the film, but when she pulled out before shooting began, Main Line claims it lost nearly $6.4 million in potential domestic and foreign sales.
The film was made with Sherilyn Fenn in the lead role. It is about a woman injured in a car wreck who is held hostage by a doctor who amputates her legs and arms and keeps her in a box, hoping that she will fall in love with him.
On Monday, the blonde, Georgia-born actress--who has appeared in such movies as "Batman," "9 1/2 Weeks" and "My Stepmother Is an Alien"--took the witness stand.
Her attorney, Howard Weitzman, said Basinger was suffering from a cold and fever and, throughout her day-long testimony, she repeatedly dabbed at her nose with facial tissue, drank glass after glass of water and coughed periodically. Her boyfriend, actor Alec Baldwin, who has regularly accompanied Basinger to court, was not present.
Basinger, 39, said she liked the script when she first read it and authorized her entertainment attorney, Julie Philips, to try to get the role. But she said concerns surfaced when she passed the script around "to 15 or 20 people I admire (in the entertainment industry) and the overwhelming response . . . was, this was a joke."
She said her agent at the time, Guy McElwaine of ICM, warned her that if the film was made, "tomatoes would be thrown against the screen." ICM has been accused in the suit of encouraging her to drop out of the film.
Basinger also said she did not want to commit herself to the movie until she resolved with Jennifer Lynch such questions as nudity and who her co-stars would be.
"When you are asked to do a scene in which you are asked to do partial or total nudity," Weitzman asked her, "is it important for you to meet that individual you are going to do it with before you agree to do it?"
Basinger, in a soft Southern drawl, replied: "I wouldn't want to get naked with anybody I didn't know, either partial or total. . . . That just makes common sense."
The actress said she felt that Helena's character needed to be made more "sympathetic" but that Lynch "had an argument for every single idea I had come up with. . . . She was very, very stern about her vision of Helena."
By June, 1991, Lynch had made changes in the script, but Basinger said of them: "I told her they were laughable. I told her it was like bad television, the worst television writing in history."
Basinger emphatically denied that she ever gave Lynch or producer Carl Mazzocone, president of Main Line, the impression that she was going to make the movie, even though the Hollywood trade paper Variety announced in March, 1991, that she was set to make the film. The actress said she regularly sees the trades print stories about actors who are supposed to make certain movies and the movies never seem to get made.
During questioning by Patricia Glaser, Main Line's attorney, Basinger testified that she could not recall certain conversations with Lynch or seeing negotiating documents that Philips was drawing up.
She also did not recall whether she suggested that Mazzocone hire her hair colorist for the film.
Outside the crowded courtroom of Superior Court Judge Judith C. Chirlin, actors John Malkovich ("Dangerous Liaisons"), Julian Sands and Fenn (both of "Boxing Helena") were present. News cameramen and autograph seekers also assembled.
Alfie Pettit, owner of Alfie's Autographs of Hollywood, had a book of Herb Ritts photos that he was hoping Basinger would sign. He had one, a nude Basinger reclining on her stomach, that he estimated would be worth $500 if she signed it.